After a 10-month undercover investigation at a neuroscience laboratory at Cambridge University, Buav claims it has evidence to show that the Home Office has insufficiently enforced the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The case will be heard at the High Court on 23 July.
Buav says its investigation uncovered obvious breaches of legal requirements. As one example, it says marmoset monkeys used for scientific experiments at the laboratory were left unattended for 15 hours after undergoing brain surgery.
It claims this contravenes Home Office rules stating that the animals should receive 24-hour veterinary assistance after surgery to minimise their suffering.
Buav hopes the case will also look at whether or not the Home Office has misinterpreted the act. It alleges the department's licence approval system, which judges the severity of procedures, is too soft.
It points to a procedure in which monkeys have the tops of their heads removed to induce strokes, which it says should be classed as 'substantial' and not 'moderate'.
"The evidence uncovered by our investigators at Cambridge makes a mockery of Government assurances that its protection laws mean animals don't suffer in labs," said Michelle Thew, chief executive of Buav.
The group defended its decision to use donated funds to pay for the action.
"We're bringing the case on behalf of animals who can't speak for themselves," said a Buav spokeswoman.
A Home Office spokeswoman said it would present a "robust case" at the hearing.